Bamboo Cyberdream

a panda wanders the electronic landscape

Sham Awards

The GDC schedule maker, I just discovered, is a waste of time. It won’t let me save, nor will it display my proposed schedule in any kind of useful fashion. <sigh> I guess I’m back to what I did last year — manually entering things into Google Calendar and then color coding them by priority. Such a pain — come on guys, you charge a lot of money for this conference. Help me get the most out of it.

But then while perusing the rest of the site, I was reminded of the Game Developer’s Choice Awards, given each year at the conference. As the gaming industry struggles to define ourselves as a medium, we’re still intent on imitating others, right down to the awards shows. The GD Choice awards, to that end, try to position themselves in the same spirit as the Screen Actors Guild awards — it’s supposed to be more meaningful because it’s coming from your peers. But we’re just as fad-driven and in awe of success as every other crappy awards, and the list doesn’t tend to diverge much from what you see at Gamespot and its ilk.

We’re supposed to be the classy awards that highlight innovation and true creativity, and we gave last year’s Game of the Year to Gears of War, a highly polished but utterly run of the mill shooter. This was the same year of Wii Sports, a game which almost singlehandedly opened up the industry to an overwhelming number of people who had never played games, while simultaneously showcasing a exuberant minimalism that reminded us that we made things to be played. We duck down and give Wii Sports an award for Design, but when it came time to decide the game by which we would remember 2006, we faltered and went with the blockbuster. You expect that of Oscar, of Gamespot. But not of SAG, and I had hoped not of GD Choice.

On top of the actual awards, the show was hosted by Tim Schafer, who worked on some of most entertaining games I can remember ( Full Throttle, Monkey Island, etc.). His work seems to have fallen off lately ( Psychonauts just didn’t do it for me, which marks me as a heretic in many circles), but there’s a cult of personality that seems to keep driving his success. But he was awkward, unfunny, and even a little insulting during the show (essentially dismissing the audio category, saying nobody cared). Just because somebody is a funny writer does not make them funny in front of people.

Finally, the awards recipients didn’t even seem to care. Which is fine — they are entitled to hold whatever opinion of the awards that they want. But when the recipients don’t bother to say anything of substance when brought to the podium, perhaps it’s a sign that the traditional awards ceremony format just doesn’t work for game developers. As always, he’s a little over the top, but I think David Jaffe is right on this one: let’s rethink our notion of “awards” when we go to recognize achievement in interactive media, because aping the self-importance of the Oscars isn’t doing anybody any good.

[Concessionary tangent: I have to admit that the individual awards are almost always good — the Pioneer Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Ambassador Award seem to be the only ones with any prestige. You can tell because the people receiving them actually seem honored.]

This year, the two big contenders for Game of the Year are Bioshock and Portal. Once again we have a similar situation as last year, though Bioshock is a substantially more creative game than Gears of War was. But when something as shockingly original, as singular, as entertaining, and as mind-numbingly engaging and charming as Portal comes along, how can you justify giving the award to anything else?

This rant might be a year too late. But damnit, I didn’t blog back then. Let’s hope this year doesn’t disappoint me. Come on, GLaDOS!